It most likely was not his intention but, in seeking to score political points on the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on two occasions during the past week, General Secretary of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) George Pilgrim has unwittingly turned the spotlight on the incumbent DLP Government’s failure to deliver on the critical issue of political and governance reform.
At a news conference last week, two days before the BLP staged its “March of Disgust” primarily against the economic policies of the Freundel Stuart administration, Pilgrim questioned the source of financing which the BLP was using to underwrite an extensive media-driven advertising and promotion campaign in support of the event.
Claiming that the BLP had spent over $100,000 to get the word out with the aim of mobilizing Barbadians to participate in the Saturday afternoon protest, Pilgrim said he was shocked that the Opposition “can find this sort of money in one week in a country that they promote as broke”. He said Barbadians needed to ask themselves on whose backs they were marching.
Appearing yesterday on Brasstacks Sunday, Pilgrim went a step further, accusing the BLP of paying people to take part in the march — which the Opposition promptly denied. He said: “The fact that people were willing to turn up to march and receive a gratuity speaks of what Barbadians should fear going into the next election.”
Mr Pilgrim’s political objective was quite clear: to plant suspicion in the public’s mind, given the fact that over the years Barbadians have demonstrated a sense of unease about the unknown sources of political party financing and the possibility of the public interest being undermined through opportunities such secrecy presents for corruption.
Readers may recall that following the last general election in 2013 in which the DLP retained the Government with a two-seat majority, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had complained to the media about alleged vote buying, implicitly blaming the Opposition. He suggested that tackling the issue of party financing would be a matter of priority. However, since then, nothing more has been said on the issue.
Against this backdrop, to complain about an issue which the DLP administration had every opportunity to address over the last four years but seemingly did nothing, it can be argued that Pilgrim is effectively shooting the DLP in the foot. Being the Government of the day, the DLP only has itself to blame for the fact that the sources of political party financing are still a closely guarded secret.
Were the necessary regulations in place, there certainly would be no need for the DLP general secretary to be asking about the source of the BLP’s financing. There would be mechanisms allowing transparency not only in relation to the BLP but also the DLP and any other political party. But seeing that Pilgrim seems so preoccupied with the BLP, it is only reasonable to ask if he would be willing to publicly disclose sources of DLP financing.
It is an open secret that both major parties have their “friends”, mostly in business, who give generously to support various causes and undertakings. Most reportedly give to both parties, though, in some instances, one party may be more highly favoured than the other. Whether factual or unfounded, many Barbadians also believe that a percentage of proceeds from the award of some Government contracts has ended up in the coffers of the ruling party over the years.
It is left to be seen, in the remaining months of its current mandate, whether the DLP will deliver on its commitment in relation to the regulation of political party financing and also honour other promises given to the electorate as far as back as the 2008 general election, to promote more openness, transparency, accountability and integrity in public life.
We are of the view — and we have stated so many times before — that moving in this direction is necessary to satisfy the demanding requirements of modern governance. Until the DLP delivers on its promises which would demonstrate that it is indeed serious about improving governance, its griping over who is financing the Opposition is more likely to be seen as convenient grandstanding.
It certainly would have been better, instead of mere complaining, if Mr Pilgrim had used whatever influence he has to persuade the powers that be to act on the promised legislation without further delay so that he can readily have access to the answers he needs instead of having to resort to posing the questions to the media.